Natural versus chemical sunscreens. This is what you need to know.

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It’s a cloudy, rainy, dreadful day at the time of writing this. The summery smell of sunscreen and dream days at the beach seem really far away. But hey, silver-lining time folks. And besides, it’s a great moment to remind you all sunscreen is not just for days well spent in the sun. It’s for every day. Even the days as cloudy and rainy as this one. Even the days we spent inside. Whut? Yes really. Sunscreen isn’t only necessary when outside. If you work in an office with windows, or drive a car, the UV rays will still reach you, so it's important to protect. That is if your concern is protecting your skin from harmful UV-rays. And TBH, we think it should be: Using sun protection consistently from an early age is the strongest defence against developing skin cancer, avoiding sunburn, and reducing skin aging. As much as we might love the sun, the sun doesn’t love us back. It’s good for us to always realize this. For ourselves, for our little ones, and for everyone in need of a little reminder.

Well then, why is mineral sunscreen the best way to go? I think reasons to opt for mineral might vary from person to person. For me personally, the most important reason to avoid their chemical counterpart, is ‘cause natural sunscreens are known to be reef-safe.

For the love of our oceans

If you love the ocean, or at least realize its importance, you better think twice before casually lathering on your sunscreen. Common chemicals used in sunscreens threaten corals and other marine life. The chemicals (partly) stay on your skin and wash off as you hit the beach and go in for a dive. For those avoiding the beach or not swimming at all, we’re not letting you off the hook here: these same chemicals wash off when you shower too. And guess where that’s going? Right. Straight into our beautiful oceans. Same same.

What ingredients to avoid

You wanna do a quick check to see what type of sunscreen you’re carrying around with you? Screen the ingredient list for the most common chemicals that can harm marine life, being: Oxybenzone, Benzophenone-1, Benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor, 3-Benzylidene camphor, Nano-Titanium dioxide, Nano-Zinc oxide, Octinoxate, Octocrylene. Oh, and maybe needless to say but count on us to have done the work for you. When you’re on the lookout for a new sunscreen, rest assured: our sunscreens have been carefully selected not to contain any of those harmful toxics.

Possible health risks

There’s a big difference in how chemical and natural filters work. Chemical sunscreens act almost like a sponge, absorbing UV light, while physical sunscreens act more like a shield, sitting atop your skin, reflecting the sun’s rays away from your body. Several studies show chemical ingredients in sunscreen may be absorbed through the skin, and into the body. These same chemical filters may disrupt hormone activity and also cause allergic skin reactions so what about avoiding them all together. Hell yeah.

Size does matter

For the sharp-eyed reader, yes natural filters Nano-Titanium dioxide and Nano-Zinc Oxide are among the nasties too. It’s Non-Nano-Titanium Dioxide and Non-Nano-Zinc Oxide we’re looking for in our sunscreens. “Non-nano” and “nano” refer to the size of the particles of these ingredients. So let us explain why size does matter. In this case. A nanoparticle is a particle between 1 and 100 nanometers (nm) in size. Nanoparticles are used because they are non-whitening, but their small size makes them highly reactive, and some concerns have been raised about the possible health risks of nanoparticles if they were to enter the bloodstream. And because of their very small size, they could. Non-nano particles are bigger in size (>100 nanometers) and will therefore remain on the surface of the skin and will not be absorbed into the body.

Apart from the possible toxic effects regarding our own health, nano- zinc oxide particles aren’t considered to be reef-safe either. They can be ingested by marine animals including coral, which ultimately causes them to bleach and die. When washed off into the ocean, they can react with UV rays to generate hydrogen peroxide which can be toxic to phytoplankton - a vital nutrient to many reef and coral species. So if you ask us, non-nano it is.

No need to wait

By now, you understand why we’re in favour of natural sunscreens, and we can’t keep ourselves from awarding it with some extra bonus points. Natural sunscreen works right away. There’s no need to wait before exposing yourself to the sun. This is because the physical filters literally sit on top of your skin, ready for action right away. Chemical sunscreen requires 20 minutes of waiting for the chemicals to be absorbed into your skin in order to work.

White cast, a thing of the past

While there’s a lot to say for using natural sunscreens, it’s true that zinc oxide and titanium oxide are white powders, which is why natural sunscreen formulas are known to leave this not-so-fun white cast. Even though possible health risks and the negative effect on our environment linked to chemical sunscreens, might make this disadvantage fade away (wink), it’s good to know there’s so many great mineral options to choose from these days, not leaving a white hazy finish at all. Check out black-owned suncare brand Unsun, which is developed especially with dark skintones in mind. Their hero product the Mineral Tinted Face Sunscreen Lotion with SPF 30 is available in 2 shades: light-medium and medium-dark. And another one of my personal favourites is the Madara Plant Stem Cell Age Defying Face Sunscreen (available in SPF 30 and SPF 50) with an invisible nude tint and enriched with Hyaluron to give those moisture levels a boost. Also brands like Salt & Stone and Madara worked hard (with result!) to develop formulas that blend into the skin really easily, minimizing the white cast. In short, the white residue – apart from actually being least of our problems – is not something you have to deal with when opting for mineral sunscreens. Just pick the right one, and you’re good to go.

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